Daily Reflection
of Creighton University's Online Ministries
December 25th, 2008

Robert P. Heaney

John A. Creighton University Professor
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
Mass at Midnight

Isaiah 9:1-6
Psalm 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence . . .”

This 1600 year-old hymn is, I think, my favorite Christmas song – not just for the beauty of its melody, but because its opening line captures for me what has to be the only proper response to what we celebrate today. What it means for God to become human is so hard to get our heads around that the Church gives us three different approaches in the Christmas Masses. We are like the six blind men trying to grasp what an elephant is by feeling parts of it. To think that the God who created everything that exists – from quarks to galaxies – who has conferred on them the properties that order our universe – who continues to create all living things, from bacteria to, yes, elephants – should enter into created reality, should take on our flawed humanity – it is simply too much to grasp.
Not just “How could that be”, but “Why would God do that”?

The “why” of Christmas is, simply, love – not just attraction, not just affection, not just passion, but pure, unalloyed self-giving. Creation itself is a foretaste of that self-giving – sharing the existence that is eternal in God. But the incarnation takes God’s self-giving to a totally new level. In Jesus we recognize that self-giving is the very nature of God. The reading from Hebrews from the Mass at Day makes precisely that point. No more partial insights, no more groping to comprehend the elephant. Jesus is “the very imprint of God’s being.”

Among the great things about working in a place like Creighton are the extensive programs of service to others – projects in Appalachia, the Dominican Republic, Omaha’s own Siena-Francis House and One World – faculty, staff, and students alike – working, teaching, and learning in a climate where service to others is almost a part of the air we breathe. We often do it poorly. Still, we do it. It all flows from the self-giving of God that we celebrate today – a thousand roads leading out from the stable at Bethlehem.
But there is one difference. At the end of our summers or spring breaks or semesters, we go “home” again – back to our “normal” lives, leaving behind those whom we have for a while helped unselfishly. The God man whose birth we celebrate did not do that. Instead, as the canticle in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians stresses, he accepted our death, “even death on a cross”. His way home took him through Calvary. It has been truly said that the stable at Bethlehem stands in the shadow of the cross. It is, after all, the cross that makes concrete the love manifested in Bethlehem. That is something we desperately need to grasp – not as a “downer” at this joyful season, but so that we can understand that truly “normal”, truly human, life consists of total self-giving. For Jesus is not just the “very imprint of God’s being” but the norm – as in “normal” – the very model of what true humanity is.

The ancient hymn continues:

“. . . and in fear and trembling stand. Christ our God to earth descendeth . . .”

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